By Ehichioya Ezomon
The political crisis in the Edo State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) demands that Governor Godwin Obaseki, Deputy Governor Philip Shaibu and their supporters reflect deeply on why and how they defected to the party in June 2020.
Needless to dwell on the nitty-gritty of their exit from the All Progressives Congress (APC), which gave them the platform to the Dennis Osadebey Avenue seat of government in Benin City in 2016.
But there they’re, left in the political wilderness by the machination of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC, headed by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, a former governor of Edo State.
In the run-up to the September 2020 governorship contest, Oshiomhole had sworn to disqualify Obaseki even if he passed the screening that would qualify him for the party primaries.
Various factors, some outside of Oshiomhole’s control, were also at play to deny Obaseki the chance to vie for the ticket that ought to be his on the basis of “right of first refusal” as a sitting governor.
The split with Oshiomhole ensured that Obaseki was taken through the rigours of primaries rather than a coronation, and disqualified over reported discrepancies in the documents he filed with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
What to do in the circumstance? That’s when and how Obaseki and his camp decided to defect to the PDP, as the sure platform to use, to pay the APC and Oshiomhole back in their game.
Yet, it’s a tug-of-war for the PDP to admit Obaseki and his defectors, with alleged difficult conditions placed before him, including monetary inducement, and the ceding of the position of Deputy Governor to the old or foundation members of the chapter.
In the end, a lot of water reportedly passed under the bridge, and Obaseki and Shaibu had their way as the PDP candidate and running mate, and roundly defeated the APC and its candidate.
After every election comes the sharing and allocation of offices, and that’s the takeoff of the second stanza of the crisis in the Edo PDP. The prior agitation for a bigger role in Obaseki’s second term was only subsumed for the PDP to have a rancour-free poll.
By losing the Deputy Governor’s position, the old members were energized to fight for other appointive offices, as the processes for elective posts would only come in the lead-up to the 2023 polls.
The old members, headed by former Edo State chairman and national vice chairman (South-South) of the PDP, Chief Dan Orbih, have accused Obaseki of allocating “99 per cent” of party positions to members that accompanied him to the PDP.
But Obaseki considers the old members’ demand for equity as aimed at undermining his leadership of the Edo PDP, and lately told those not satisfied with his headship of the party to take a walk.
Obaseki’s declaration comes on the back of Hon. Shaibu’s warning that the new members would pull out of the PDP if the old members failed to integrate them into the party.
In tandem with Shaibu’s position, Obaseki stated that the 500,000 registered new members since September 2020 “have not properly integrated into our party after two years,” adding that, “the leaders, executives and members, who came with me into the party, have still not been accepted, integrated or harmonized into the party.”
Obaseki alleged that a cabal, led by Chief Orbih, has “vilified and ostracized” old members of Edo PDP, “who are open to inclusion and supportive of building a large party.”
The governor recalled that “a political solution gave rise to the emergence of Chief Dan Orbih, first as acting and then as substantive National Vice Chairman, South South, of our party… It is therefore curious why this type of political solution is no longer tenable to resolve the political impasse in Edo State PDP.”
The question is: Who is integrating whom? Going by Nigeria’s current skewed political arrangement, the President, Governor or a past Governor leads and controls the structures of political parties.
This is so as the president and state governors misuse public funds to run political parties, and thus in a position to dictate what goes on in the parties, such as picking members for elective or appointive positions, and sharing of other bounties of office.
In the instant case of Edo PDP, the power to integrate all members lies with Governor Obaseki, as the leader of the party, and not with the old members, as inferred by Obaseki and Shaibu.
Actually, the old members started the process of integration by accepting the new members into the platform. The “proper integration” or “harmonisation” should come from Obaseki by way of an equitable distribution of positions to old and new members.
The crisis in the Edo PDP arose from “improper harmonisation” of old and new members, even as Obaseki maintains that the process of harmonisation has started, but stalled by the old members, and yet, he’s only able to cite the choice of Chief Orbih for consecutive elevated positions in the chapter.
What about other positions the governor had filled? How many slots went to the old members? How many Commissioners, departmental and parastatal heads were picked from among the old members? Did the positions of Secretary to the State Government (SSG) or Chief of Staff (CoS) go to the old members’ camp? What’s difficult in ceding second positions in various sectors of Edo polity to the old members, who appear not asking for too much?
The old members will have little or no case if these questions, and more, are answered in the affirmative. But if in the negative, then there’s a problem of inequity in the system, and Obaseki needs to tackle it with an open mind.
It’s lack of equity, and a firm willingness to rectify the anomaly that breeds the notion of “founders and joiners” and “betrayal and ingratitude” that resonates like a mantra in the camp of the old members of the Edo chapter of the PDP.
And they’re right to feel so, considering what they did to receive Governor Obaseki, Deputy Governor Shaibu and other members that defected to the PDP after they’re alienated by the APC.
But Obaseki may argue that it’s the old members of the Edo PDP that owe his camp immense gratitude for reviving the platform that’s out of power for 12 years, and had no hope in the 2020 poll.
The governor can stretch the argument that had he gone to another political party, even “a smaller party,” he would’ve won the poll, what with the overwhelming supports from Edo voters!
Indeed, the voters rooted for Obaseki’s re-election with the slogan, “4+4 Togba,” meaning, “four plus four equals eight years signed, sealed and delivered” for four more years for Obaseki in power.
Still, Obaseki couldn’t dare to test his popularity outside the mainstream PDP, which had formidable structures in the unit, ward and local government levels across Edo State, and had acquitted itself creditably in past elections that the party lost.
All said, the matter in the Edo PDP can be resolved satisfactorily if members, particularly Governor Obaseki, Deputy Governor Shaibu and Chief Orbih set aside ego, greed and blackmail, and adopt flexibility and compromise in handling the party affairs.
* Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings